Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Earlier this morning, I read with great interest about a concept on Courtenay’s blog. In her post, she discussed how her neoprene wetsuit reminded her of ponies and horse stables. As horses use neoprene wraps on their legs for support while running, the neoprene smell is very prevalent upon the removal of said leg supports. So it would only stand to reason that while sporting a neoprene wetsuit – with its distinct smell – Courtenay would be reminded of the ponies that she spent so much time with.

And that in turn, prompted me to think about some of the different scents and senses that have triggered memories in my brain, that have generated emotions and memories from my past.

Some are good, others not so much. But the point is, is that I carry these senses with me, still remember the events which have already come to pass.

One of the most vivid is the scent of a 400 meter rubberized track. Starting in junior high school while competing at the Hershey State Track and Field Meet in Minnesota, through high school cross country and track workouts, to the present (pre-crash, of course), nearly every visit to the track has been filled with gut-wrenching speed workouts.

And as always, the track has a very specific, very rubberized scent. And it is even more prevalent on hot, steamy Florida days.

It became a Pavlovian response in my case towards the end of last summer. I would drive to the track in effort to do some crazy workout, smell the track, hit the bathrooms, warm up, hit the bathrooms (again) and do said workout.

Interestingly enough, as I started my power walking as of late, I noticed that every time I would merely walk onto the track – with absolutely NO speed work on my agenda – my stomach would clench, and I would find myself heading for the bathroom.

The whiff of the track, the sight of the turns and long straight away was enough to send me galloping for the restrooms. Healing back and all. And I have a feeling that I’ll retain this sense for life.

What else?

Well, for starters, whenever I see the ocean, I think of sharks. That’s just a given. Especially since I’ve actually seen two of them while swimming or preparing to swim.

(The first was an angel shark off Panama City Beach last summer, the second was a big shark of large size getting pulled into a fisherman’s boat about an hour before the start of 70.3 Worlds in Clearwater. Suffice to say, I stuck with the pack as best as I could for that race.)

Whenever I smell Nathaniel’s shaving cream and deodorant, I’ll think of him. That goes without saying. Whenever he deploys, I always sleep in his shirts – as they smell like him. But in a good way, not a gross guy-smell sort of way.

When I smell onions sautéing, I’ll remember all the times my Mom made Czech food. And my mouth waters (especially when bacon is added to make zeli, a Czech cabbage dish. Delicious!).

Classical music makes me think of all the times I played violin in an orchestra, and how nervous I would get before recitals. And then my hands begin to sweat. It was a big problem before giving a violin concert, as sweaty hands = difficulty keeping my fingers from slipping and sliding along the keyboard. I even went so far as to try putting anti-persperant on my hands before playing for people – but that didn’t work too well.

If you’re ever at a concert, and see the soloist wiping their hands against their trousers our dress, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re wiping the sweat off their hands. And that their pulse is about 180. Trust me.

And the morning cell phone alarm. Ah. The ring is the SAME annoying one that I use to get me up on race mornings. So whenever I hear the irritating jangle go off – even while standing in a book store or while waiting at an airport – my heart rate jumps and I think about how hard I’ll be working in a short amount of time.

I know, I know – I should just change my alarm. But it’s so darn effective. And it gets me going on race morning.

The sight of a bathroom scale makes me nervous. Although we do have one, and I do step on it, I now have a very healthy approach to my weight. However, the scale reminds me of my brief tenure of lightweight rowing at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The coach at the time (thank God she’s no longer there) was very insistent that all the girls on her squad maintain their weight at a certain number. We were given random weigh-ins 2-3 times per week. And our place on the team was contingent on our weight. And our athletic scholarship was contingent on our place on the team.

You do the math.

There were lots of girls who exercised all the time, who rarely ate, and who obsessed over food.

To this day, I think there’s a reason why there are so few seniors on the squad, a few more juniors, and a lot more sophomores. The stress associated with a regiment like that was one of the most horrible things I have ever done in my life. I’m not sure about the current program (as there have been several coaching chages), but one of the assistant coaches for the current squad, was the captain while I was there. So who knows for sure?

It was a horrible environment, and to this day, every time I step on a scale, I remember how awful I felt rowing at Wisconsin.

But I also remember how I survived that environment, how I grew stronger because of it.

So I have a healthy respect for the scale, I realize that my self worth is NOT equated to a number. And for the most part I know where I’m at based on how clothes fit and how I feel.

But I still get nervous if I haven’t stepped on it for a while – the glass-is-half-empty part of me envisions a weight gain of XX+ pounds. And that’s no fun. But after 8 years of work, I’m at a better place – and that’s a reason to smile.

Every time I see the aqua blue waters of The Gulf, I think of Pirates of the Caribbean. Love those movies – they’re a lot of fun! And the shots of the clear waters sprinkled throughout make me yearn for white sandy beaches, calm waves, and perhaps a corona thrown in for good measure.

Plus, they’re really fun to watch – a great date movie for couples on a rainy afternoon.

The Long Leaf Pine Trees that are peppered across the Gulf Coast remind me of Cherry Point, North Carolina. Eastern Carolina has an abundance of Long Leaf Pine Trees – the topography and soil is perfect for them. And than in turn reminds me of my long trail runs through the woods and trails of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

The smell of wool and books makes me think about my Dad. During the winter, he’ll wear warm sweaters and read lots of books during his time off from teaching. And that makes me think about how lucky I am to have the parents that I do.

Visiting old race sites – but not racing – still makes me nervous, and brings up memories of that specific race. A few weeks ago, I spectated at two different races – and I still felt nervous while watching the various waves start off.

I felt my heart rate rise, and joked with Nathaniel and Ryan (Caught on the Run – no more!) to hold me back if I suddenly bolted towards the water. Wonkey back and all.

And finally, on some early mornings, Nathaniel will get up ahead of me and grind coffee. When roused from my slumber by the tune of the grinder, I remember how Dad or Mom would get up early and make coffee. The house would slowly awake in the Minnesota darkness, and soon the scent of coffee would permeate to the upstairs.

I hated the stuff, thought it was gross.

But now I’ve come to enjoy it. (With a healthy dose of fat free French Vanilla Creamer, of course.)

Senses, touch, smell, taste, texture, sound – they all play an important part in our life. Most of the memories that I choose to keep are good ones. A lawnmower buzzing on a hot day brings me back to summer’s growing up, the smell of orchid’s reminds me of Mom, and windows that are being opened and shut remind me of Dad (usually running to close them after his weather radio would beep). I see frozen suckers at the grocery store, and I think about me and Karyna, sneaking down into the cool basement on a hot day, and collecting as many frozen treats as we could carry into the safety of a shady tree.

It never ceases to amaze me how these memories stay, and how they make us feel.

To this day, whenever I hear a stupid comment on the radio, I think of Nathaniel yelling at the speakers about all the idiocy in the world. But that’s not so much a memory, as it is reality. Some things will never change.

And then there’s the House Monster, aka Jabba The Hut, aka Tabbithias Rex, aka Charcaradon Tabbithias (shark kitty!). I see her charging, and I leap out of the way. Pretty soon – or so it would seem – I’ll jump instinctively. Nathaniel already does.

Rest assured, he’s a quick study when it comes to that cat. (And YES, she’s still 18.2 pounds. I swear. I was only recently allowed to start picking her up, for fear that her girth might damage my back. Go figure.)

I know that my senses will be in for a shock this weekend. Tomorrow morning after my am water run and physical therapy, I drive out to Panama City Beach, meet Miss Mary “Sunshine” Eggers at the airport, and will be swimming in the Gulf by afternoon. Later in the day, Ashley “The Sleeper” Long will join us.

The weekend will be a blast – I’ve been looking forward to it for the longest time. I love these amazing girls with all of my heart, and while it pains me to be unable to race, I am devoted 110% to my job as a Sherpa for the weekend. Coffee will be brewed, bikes will be cleaned, and best of all? Lots of relaxing on the beach with wonderful friends.

And I’m scheduled to do several ocean swims with Mary. This will be the third time that I’ve voluntarily swam in the ocean. Holy afraid of the open ocean Batman! But it’s okay – it’ll be something new, a new memory, a fear to overcome, new senses established.

Later on Friday we’ll be joined by Donna and Joanna driving out from Pensacola.

And hopefully I’ll get a chance to meet up with Ludi and Katy later on. Saturday (RACE DAY), I’ll cheer everyone, in addition to Jen’s awesome coach Spencer Smith (I’m sure I’ll be weak kneed when I meet him) and Ryan the Clydesdale, who is planning on smoking the course. Seriously – this guy is. I literally ran into him at the grocery store earlier, and he looked like he was ready to have a great race.

And no doubt, Sherpa Marit will do her best to accommodate.
It’ll be a blast, some of the best times to be had. A total sensory overload and new memories to boot. I don’t think it could get any better… And I can’t wait!


Mira Lelovic said...

Have a great weekend! It sounds like it will be a blast. Good luck on the ocean swim, I am sure you will be tough (mentally and physically) and love every minute of it.
I have yet to figure out how those girls exercise so much and eat so little? I'd go into a coma. So happy for you for conquering that weight phobia and staying healthy.

Pedergraham said...

Really enjoyed this post. Was just thinking about that rubber smell on Tuesday night at the track and wondering if "real runners" asssociated that smell the way I do chlorine and pools. To many, it's an unpleasant smell, but to me it is home.
Have a wonderful trip this weekend. The ocean swimming sounds wonderful...I will be there in spirit!

Ryan said...

I will be staying at the Moondrifter. I will be checked in as Mr. Caught (alias to keep the groupies away)

Now will you be cleaning everyone's bike?

My bike really loves to be sang to in Italian while applying its final coat of hard wax. ;)

Your friends are super lucky to have such a great friend as you, have a great weekend!

Tell Nathaniel to enjoy the "free time."

Courtenay said...

great post marit! i love all your imagery. still chuckling at Secret on your hands - hahahaha!

have an awesome weekend, sounds like great fun, INCLUDING the ocean swims. also LA tri is going to be my first ocean swim in a race (and at this rate my first ocean swim ever, too bad the hawaii trip is after the race not before!)

also, you might appreciate this: charlie exhibited his FIRST EVER predatory instinct towards the goldfish last night - for just a moment, his ears perked up and he watched them swim and batted his paw on the side of the tank. just for an instant. cats are hilarious.

Courtenay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TriGirl Kate O said...

Maybe you should sign Tabbitha up for the rowing crew...hee hee.
Pipe tobacco and burning wood matches always remind me of my dad.
Thanks for a trip down memory lane, both yours and mine!

Eileen Swanson said...

I LOVE this post Marit! You are such an awesome writer. I truly love all of the imagery, you have my mind spinning thinking about how all the scents make me feel. Oh this is so cool, you brought me back to my gymnastics days! But I do have to say that in all seriousness I too have a very bad memory of scales. I am sure you can imagine, being an elite gymnast came with a price. Scary, but so true. These days, I have heard and witnessed coaches being much, much better. Thank God!

Have a great weekend! You deserve it! Cheers!


Mel said...

Marit...great post and how great will it be to actually get into the open water are healing and fighting to over come your worst fear..go after and and show that ocean who is on fire :) Have NO worries and just enjoy :)
I want to thank you so much for your awesome/kind comments...really it is friends like you that get me through my mental breaks :) Have a WONDERFUL weekend and have that SMILE on your face...knowing recovery is getting closer :)


Wingman said...

The smell of cut grass early in the morning will forever remind me of football; and the smell of fall leaves will eternally remind me of game days - I spent so many great years of my life around those 2 smells that I'll never forget them.

Make sure my Coach works her butt off and has a great time!!!! Especially as I sit here in NYC humidity on my trainer for an hour.